Adding Insult to Injury: How another regulator dumped on 50swomen pensions complaints

Joanna Wallace, Independent Case Examiner for the DWP Pic Credit: Ombudsman Association

This is Joanna Wallace. She is the Independent Case Examiner for the Department for Work and Pensions.

Her latest annual report for 2020-21 – the one for the last financial year has not yet been published promises “a free independent complaints review service for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and their contracted services “. It says it will “act as an independent adjudicator if a complainant considers that they have not been treated fairly or have not had their complaints dealt with in a satisfactory manner; and to support service improvements by providing constructive comment and meaningful recommendations.”

Her report also boasts “To deliver a first rate service provided by professional staff.”

For its handling of 50swomen pension complaints it has provided nothing of the sort. To investigate this I have drawn on the findings of the confidential Parliamentary Ombudsman’s second report into maladministration over the delay in the payment of women’s pensions. There has also been an alleged development that suggests that she has destroyed all the evidence submitted by complainants.

For a start its claim to be independent is questionable. It works under a contract set by the DWP and has to apply DWP rules set by ministers in Parliamentary legislation. It has no independent web address using the dwp one. It is based in Bootle round the corner from Liverpool jobcentre and in the same road as the Health and Safety Executive.

But more serious is its record. In 2020-21 4,205 people complained to it about the DWP everything from pensions, universal credit, disability benefits to child maintenance. Of these nearly 3000 were rejected without any investigation and only 146 of the remaining 1013 cases were fully upheld. Another 338 were partial upheld and 350 were rejected. A number of others fell by the wayside.

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary Ombudsman

So it is perhaps not surprising that 50swomen would be given short shrift by Ms Wallace. The Ombudsman’s report about their handling of the women’s complaints is very revealing. The report says:

“ICE told us it received ‘an unprecedented volume’ of complaints about DWP’s communication about State Pension age, and it received no additional resources to deal with them. ” In other words the DWP made doubly sure it did not have the money to properly investigate

The report said; ” the vast majority of complainants used a standard template. ICE selected a ‘lead case’ (one of our sample complainant’s complaints) for investigation and then applied its findings in that case to each of the cases it investigated.” In other words just one complainant was examined in detail and its findings applied to the rest. Altogether 192 were looked at, the remaining 2300 complaints were never examined once a judicial review was granted by the courts to look into the failure of the DWP’s actions and inequality of its policies towards 50swomen over this issue.

The complainants case fell at the first hurdle since ICE took as standard what the DWP later justified in the judicial review that the 1995 Pensions Act made no provision for it to tell anyone. Once the DWP took that view ICE had to abide by its contract with the DWP.

As the Ombudsman reports : “It found there was no requirement for DWP to inform women of changes to their State Pension age, and that DWP had no standards for communicating changes about State Pension.”

It concluded: “as DWP had not committed to communicating changes to State Pension age individually to those affected, and given that accurate information was available on request, DWP not notifying women personally from 1995 onwards did not amount to maladministration. “

Women complaining to ICE thought they were being treated as liars

What is worse is ICE’s attitude towards 50swomen who complained they had never received the letter

which some complainants saw as treating them as liars.

The Ombudsman reports: “ICE concluded that it was more likely than not letters had been sent to complainants, at the correct address,” citing when people were written to in 2012 – some 17 years after the legislation was passed.

The ombudsman reports: “DWP has no record of who it wrote to or when, meaning that information was never available to ICE.  So, there is not enough evidence to support ICE’s conclusion it was more likely than not DWP wrote to complainants who have said they never received a letter.  What ICE should have said in the circumstances is that it could not determine whether or not DWP sent letters to the individual complainants at the time it wrote to people in their age group. “

The Ombudsman then lets ICE off the hook by saying ,” we do not think the shortcomings in its handling of this issue were significant enough to be a failure to ‘get it right’ on this occasion.”  

There is one extraordinary allegation following this report which is being investigated by WASPI.

According to Kay Clarke, who is the founder member of 1950sWOW (Women of Wales)and beyond, co -founder PP4J & Cardiff WASPI, ICE have now admitted in a letter that it has destroyed all 2,500 records of complaints.

She told me: “I can give assurance that the letter exists and quite categorically affirm the facts.”

I have not seen the letter but I have contacted ICE for a comment about this. They have not replied nor even acknowledged the email I sent.

If this is the fact the combination of the DWP not recording who complained to them and ICE destroying all the evidence of their complaints will make it very difficult for any of the 50swomen to claim anything should eventually they be awarded compensation by the Ombudsman.

Yet another hurdle in this sorry saga has been put in place.

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